How NASA Tracked Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back with 1960s Tech

Space.com | 7/18/1969 | Doris Elin Salazar
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NASA relied on the U.S. State Department to implement an extensive global network of antennas to collect radio signals from the Apollo missions, including the first moon landing, which occurred 50 years ago.

The monitoring system, collectively referred to as the Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network, has gone through various incarnations: It cut its teeth tracking the first artificial satellites around Earth.

Time - Flew - Space - NASA - Ground

By the time the first American flew in space, NASA had already established at least 30 ground stations on five continents; several islands; and aboard ships sailing the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, according to author Sunny Tsiao in the NASA History Series digital book "Read You Loud and Clear!" (2008).

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This electronic link to spacecraft and astronauts involved "two million circuit miles of land and ocean floor cables," reaching from remote volcanic atolls to cities like Madrid and Canberra, Australia, Tsiao wrote. When antennas collected data, computers and electronics on the ground converted all of it into information that users on Earth could analyze for checks on the health and status of the spacecraft.

Spaceflight - Reality - Engineers - Goddard - Space

Once crewed spaceflight became a reality, engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Manned Spacecraft (now the Johnson Space) Center in Houston created the network that tracked the Apollo astronauts to the moon and back, abbreviated as MSFN (initially known as the Mercury Space Flight Network, the "M" changed to "'Manned" later on.) Goddard ran the entire network.

"And all that data — voice data, telemetry data — all came down and eventually went through Goddard before going to Houston," NASA lunar scientist Noah Petro told Space.com. "Goddard was and still is basically NASA's hub for communications."

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Built in 1964 to support deep-space missions such as Mariner 4, Deep Space Station 42 (DSS-42) was located...
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